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Case Proven: We really do need to tackle air pollution

January 6, 2021 4:07 PM

Ella Kissi-DebrahLast month I wrote about the case of Ella Kissi-Debrah and the fact that a South London coroner's court was holding an inquest into the death of the nine-year-old. As a reminder this was a potential landmark legal case, a coroner was being asked to rule that air pollution caused the death from an acute asthma attack. This finding would make legal history. It has never been identified as a cause of death before in the UK and this is thought to be the first case of its kind in the world. Lewisham Council, the mayor of London and government gave evidence about their knowledge of the levels of toxic air around where Ella lived, the health impacts and what was being done to reduce the pollution. Prior to the inquest It had been decided that article 2 - the right to life - of the Human Rights Act, which scrutinises the role of public bodies in a person's death, apply to the hearing.

In that first article I welcomed the fact that Brentwood Council were recommending removing the three Air Quality Management Areas (AMQA) but noted there was a lack of proactive work done that saw these removed. Instead the case for revoking seemed to rest on weather conditions affecting readings and the proposed extension of the London Ultra-Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) from
Central London out to the North Circular boundary. I believe that district councils, like Brentwood, will need to start to be more proactive in their management of air quality. By proactive, I mean there will need to start being visible management and measures taking place. The reason why I believe that things must change is due to the findings last month by the coroner that air pollution was to blame for Ella's death.

This, I believe, places district councils front and centre in the battle for improving air quality. Ella's mother, Rosamund, led a long fight for the truth. Her fight may well now set the path that helps to prevent others suffering from the health problems that come from poor air quality. If local leaders at both political and local authority officer level do not want to find themselves in court discussing how their actions, or inaction, directly led to deaths then obvious actions will have to be taken.

At Ella's hearing government departments, officials from the local authority and the Mayor of London were questioned about what they did - or did not do - to reduce illegal air pollution levels around the area Ella lived. Crucially, they were interrogated about whether they informed the public of the risk to their lives from the air they were breathing, and whether their failings might have
breached Ella's right to life.

Sadly, we now have a name and a face that we can put to the human life cost of air pollution. Make no mistake, there may be currently one person with air pollution cited as a causation of their death but Ella certainly isn't the only one and unless things change quickly, she won't be the last.

1952 was the last time we had a new clean air act - this helped clear the London smogs. A new similar law is required, this time targeted Nitrogen Dioxide and other pollutants associated with modern vehicle and industrial emissions. Campaign group, 'Clean Air London,' is one of the first groups to be calling for a new clean air act to be called Ella's Law. I suspect that they will not be the

What Ella's case has made clear is that it is the duty of the Government to protect life. To do this Local Authorities that are responsible for dealing with present air pollution must start to act. At the very least local authorities will need to inform residents when air quality falls below statutory levels.

Brentwood Liberal Democrats have a very clear position. We must now start to make local changes to improve air quality. This is not a question of reaching legal minimums, it is about ensuring heathy streets. The Healthy Streets Approach is a system of policies and strategies to deliver a healthier, more inclusive urban area where people choose to walk, cycle and use public transport. We will work to put in place infrastructure that will encourage cycling, walkable neighbourhoods and safer school streets. We will encourage more active travel, improving physical health and wellbeing, reducing congestion and pollution. The Liberal Democrats will be proactive on air quality.

Cllr Barry Aspinell and Gary MacDonnell (Karen Chilvers)

Cllr Barry Aspinell and Gary MacDonnell

Gary MacDonnell is Chair of Brentwood Liberal Democrats and our candidate for the 2021 Borough Council election for Shenfield Ward. You can contact him at gary.macdonnell@brentwoodlibdems.org.uk